I have always been struck by the disciples asking Jesus to “teach them to pray (Luke 11:1).” If I had been with Jesus for a year or so I think I would have said, “Teach me to walk on water, to calm a storm, to cast out demons, and to heal the blind.” What was it about Jesus’s prayer life that caused the disciples to ask for lessons?
The gospel of Luke, in particular, we see that Jesus repeatedly left the busyness of ministry to go off by himself to pray. I once heard the gospel of Luke could be subtitled: How Jesus went from one place of prayer to the next and worked miracles in between. Reading just the first ten chapters you can see how this subtitle is fitting.
Jesus’s Private Prayer Life
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”
Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.
Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”
About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray.
Getting Away To Pray
When is it hardest to pray? For me, it’s when I am the busiest. Yet time and time again Jesus leaves the busyness of ministry to get alone with the Father. The crowds were clamoring. The opportunities were abundant. The days were long. Yet Jesus slips away to pray, even if it meant getting up early or staying up late. What did Jesus know that we so easily forget?
Prayer Is Work
Sometimes we create a false dichotomy between work and prayer. Prayer is part of the work, the most important part of the work in fact. If we’re too busy to pray because we have too much “work” to do, I’m afraid we’ve missed the point. You can see this clearly displayed when a prayer meeting slips into a planning meeting and more time is spend doing “work” than praying (the more important work).
As a rule, I try to have make sure our staff and student leaders are praying together more than we are planning together. One practical way that you may try to reinforce this truth is add prayer into your workweek and require it of your staff and students. The hours we spend in the Campus House of Prayer are part of my 50 hour workweek. Prayer is part of our job description.
Prayer Is Rest
Prayer is work, but it is also rest. I love the way more former mentor said it: “If your output is greater than your intake then your upkeep will be your downfall.” We need rest from work, and prayer provides us that rest even more than sleep or leisure. Prayer is where we can refuel.
When we spend time in worship remembering who God is and what His promises are, our hearts and minds are transformed. Coming to God with our anxieties, concerns, hopes, fears, and ministry plans, our perspective changes and our desires change. In prayer, God gives us clearer direction for the work ahead.
Justin Christopher is the National Campus Director for Campus Renewal Ministries and the author of Campus Renewal: A Practical Plan for Uniting Campus Ministries in Prayer and Mission. He facilitates CRM’s Partnering Campus Network and also gives leadership to the Campus House of Prayer and the missional community movement at the University of Texas.